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The 7 Most Beautiful Lakes In New Zealand’s South Island

A trip to New Zealand's South Island isn't complete unless you’re able to view at least some of these lakes. They each have their own unique identity and story, not to mention truly awe-inspiring views! They give a sense of the enormous amount of space for roaming, adventuring and exploring that we are bless with here in New Zealand. We are lucky enough to have quite a few of these impressive lakes on the South Island; some are hidden gems off the beaten track and others, like Lake Wakatipu, are world famous! We've picked the seven most beautiful lakes in New Zealand's South Island that you should put on your to-do list when visiting our shores, so see what you think!

Lake Wanaka

Lake Wanaka is picturesque and vividly-framed, with the craggy peaks of the Southern Alps striking a pose in the background. Wanaka Township is popular with both domestic and international tourists, with two major ski fields for winter fun, and a host of wineries and eateries to enjoy during the warmer months. Look out for Red Star Luxury Burgers, Wanaka's legitimate competitor to Ferg Burger in Queenstown! Wanaka is experiencing pretty fast growth, and is becoming similar to Queenstown in that it's a place to base yourself for all things adventure sports!

lake wanaka

Lake Wanaka from Rocky Mountain Peak

Lake Wakatipu

Queenstown is of course a main attraction for visitors to New Zealand, and Lake Wakatipu provides plenty of entertainment and world-class vistas. Lake Wakitipu is dog-legged with Glenorchy at the North-Western end, Queenstown in the middle and Kingston to the South. From Queenstown, the views across the lake towards the snow-capped Remarkables Mountain Range are unforgettable. During your visit be sure to ask a local (maybe your Active Adventures guide...!) to tell you the Maori legend of Lake Wakatipu, it involves a Giant, a Maori princess, and an angry mob! We'll leave the rest to you to discover!

One of the best times to enjoy this view is during the Winter Festival in June, with a warm glass of mulled wine and live music at Earnslaw Park.

lake wakatipu

Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables Mountains from Ben Lomond peak above Queenstown

Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo, located in the Mackenzie Basin, is the second largest lake in New Zealand’s South Island. It sits 700 meters above sea level and is a great mid-way point to stop for a snack if you're travelling between Christchurch and Queenstown. Lake Tekapo is famous for its iridescent blue coloured hue - due to the high content of rock flour, or limestone and mineral sediments that travel downstream in the glacial waters feeding the lake. This rock flour is extremely fine, and as sunlight hits the water's surface these particles of rock flour cause the light to refract at an angle which creates this stunning blue colouring - it's quite incredible.

lake tekapo

Lake Tekapo and the Church of the Good Shepherd

Lake Pukaki

Famously known as the surrounding setting for ‘Laketown’ in ‘The Hobbit’ movie series, Lake Pukaki is another long large jewel in the Mackenzie Basin. Nestled under the shadow of Aoraki/Mount Cook, it was the lakes pure distinctive light, amazing turquoise hues, coupled with the the sharp alpine peaks that originally got the attention of Sir Peter Jackson. Sir Peter ended up using this particular region three times to backdrop major location scenes in his ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit' trilogies. If you travel to New Zealand with us, look out for trip itineraries including a stay at Braemar Station (like our 'Rimu' adventure), it's a sheep station on the shores of Lake Pukaki, and one of the most unique and breath taking accommodations in the whole of New Zealand - we're lucky enough to get the place to ourselves for our groups.

lake pukaki

Lake Pukaki from Braemar Station, with Aoraki/Mt Cook in the distance

Lake Ohau

Lake Ohau is another popular destination for skiers and snowboarders. It sits directly underneath Ohau ski field and is located four hours drive south of Christchurch and two hours north of Queenstown. It offers incredible mirror images, views across to Aoraki/Mt Cook, beech forest hikes and protected shrub lands. Access tracks around the edge of the lake provide challenging 4x4 driving routes, and access to several backcountry huts and beautiful hiking trails. Our 'Manuka' trip stays at Lake Ohau Lodge on the shores of the lake.

lake ohau

Sunset as a storm approaches at Lake Ohau

Lake Matheson

Lake Matheson sits close to Fox Glacier in South Westland, on the West Coast. The lake is renowned for its crisp, reflected views of Aoraki/Mount Cook and Mount Tasman. A magnificent place to stop for a night or two beside the lake, or stay in a local lodge - there's also a great walk through native forest around the fringe of the lake.

lake matheson

Lake Matheson on the West Coast near Franz Josef

Lake Hawea

Lake Hawea lies near Lake Wanaka and covers a huge 141 square kilometers. It's a popular lake for activities like fly fishing, kayaking, wind and kite surfing and boating. Along the shores of the lake there are numerous biking and hiking trails and up the valleys there are some well-known hunting spots. If you travel on a South Island trip which includes mountain biking, like the 'Tui' adventure, then Lake Hawea is where we'll start our ride, finishing on the shores of Lake Wanaka, which we've already told you about!

lake hawea

A beautifully still day at Lake Hawea

So that’s our list of the 7 most beautiful lakes in New Zealand's South Island, an impressive selection of stunningly beautiful lakes. If you’re thinking of visiting some of these destinations, you should check out our New Zealand Adventure trips. We're looking forward to showing you around!

Related Trips:

10 Interesting Facts That You Didn't Know About New Zealand

Inca Trail Packing List: The 12 Most Important Items and Why

Why travel with Active Adventures?

Above all, we aim to be amazing hosts. We're proud of our kiwi roots, and our professional, warm and relaxed style of running trips around the world is unforgettable.

We're VERY picky about who we select to work in our team, and we have people from all over the world lining up to guide our trips. So we get to hire the absolute BEST in the business.

As soon as you get off the plane, we've got all the details of your vacation covered – top notch meals, comfortable transport & accommodation, amazing guides and INCREDIBLE service.

Whether you’re new to adventure travel, or you’ve never travelled in a group before, you’ll find yourself arriving home positively different from when you left.

With our small groups (no more than 14), you'll get to know our team, your fellow travellers, and have the flexibility and freedom to do as much (or as little!) as you like.

It's all about getting there under your own steam – on foot, in a sea kayak, or by bike. What better way is there to experience mind blowing scenery? If it's your first time, no worries – our expert guides have got you covered.

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